Mr. John Burth
NYS Adirondack Park Agency
P.O. Box 99
Ray Brook, NY 12977

Re. Public Hearing, Variance Request, Project 2016-0029A, LS Marina, Lower Saranac Lake

We write in response to the June 5 public hearing called by the Agency for a variance to the Agency’s shoreline restrictions. We listened carefully to that hearing.  Although information was presented to show that the applicant’s demolition of old marina structures since 2015 appear more protective of the shoreline and littoral zone, insufficient information was shared at the hearing to determine if the actual application for a variance meets the APA’s regulatory standards. 

Standards for Review of Variances Not Met:  Agency staff failed  to make any statements on June 5 as to compliance with standards for review of variances to the shoreline restrictions. The failure to actively participate in the substance of the June 5 hearing is especially troublesome because of the Appellate Court’s reversal of Agency Permit 2016-0029. Under these circumstances it is disappointing the Agency would not wish to underscore its most rigorous review of the variance requested.

At no time during the hearing did APA staff respond to the question of whether the variance requested is the minimum relief necessary, the first factor to be considered in reviewing a variance pursuant to the  Agency’s Variance Regulations at Part 576.1  Although the total number of boat berths proposed at both the Main and Annex Marinas (292 total) have decreased by 24 since the Court’s reversal of APA’s 2020 permit, it remains a significant increase – about 120 berths – over what pre-existed there. Of the 292 total berths proposed, 174 are covered boat berths. This variance is for the largest marina in the Adirondack Park. It must also be noted that the Applicant has created the hardship, a significant factor to be considered under Section 576.1.

Further, the fact that that the Appellate Court has annulled the prior permit and correctly determined that the wetlands in question are Value Rated “1” has serious implications for another significant variance factor under Part 576.1, namely whether granting the variance would adversely affect the natural resources. At no time during the hearing did APA staff discuss the impact to the Value “1”  wetland.  Under Part 578.10, such wetlands must be preserved intact, and no activity may cause degradation or loss of any part of the wetland and its associated values. This is an extremely rigorous standard that was not addressed June 5 by either the applicant or the staff.

Adjudication Needed: Whether a variance for a large increase in the size and capacity of the marina would adversely  affect Class 1 wetlands and other natural and scenic resources of Lower Saranac Lake and the entire Saranac Lake chain of lakes, and whether the imposition of conditions would ameliorate adverse effects (Part 576.1(5,6) are regulatory considerations that can only be adequately addressed and answered through adjudication.

Under the regulatory criteria set forth in Part 580.2 of the APA Regulations this request must proceed to an adjudicatory hearing.

  1. Size/complexity of project.  This would be the largest marina in the Adirondack Park in an area of mixed private land and Forest Preserve on the Saranac Lake chain, a heavily used waterbody.
  2. Degree of Public Interest. The record shows there is strong public interest in this matter.
  3. Significant issues related to approval. The presence of the Value “1” wetland and the mandate to preserve it in 578.10 is alone a significant enough issue.
  4. Approval only with substantial modifications/conditions.  The fact that the Value “1” wetland must be preserved obviously requires significant project modification or conditions.
  5. Possibility that information at a hearing would be of assistance. Because of the utter lack of information June 5 regarding impacts to the Value “1” wetland, an adjudicatory hearing is required. Moreover, the potential for new information to be adjudicated includes how this marina expansion granted through the variance may impact upon the recreational carrying capacity of Lower Saranac Lake and the other lakes in the Saranac Lake Wild Forest. With respect to the annulled LS Marina permit, the Appellate Court in 2023 stated that it found the absence of a carrying capacity study and evaluation “inexplicable.” APA
    needs to explain.

It is undisputed that the APA is required under the Act to evaluate a project’s potential for adverse impacts on adjoining landowners and uses, including the uses and users of Lower Saranac Lake, where the shorelines, beds and banks are 98% Adirondack Forest Preserve. Also undisputed is the Act’s requirement to evaluate the conformance of a given project with other government controls, including the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, the Saranac Lake Wild Forest Unit Management Plan. The APA Act and the APSLMP makes mandatory carrying capacity analysis to adequately determine whether permits or variances can be granted. Without it, APA cannot adequately evaluate undue adverse impacts to reach a determination in this matter. 

As an adjudicatory hearing would reveal, a waterbody carrying capacity study is entirely practicable. Adirondack Park Forest Preserve Carrying Capacity of Water Bodies Study, Phase 1, was requested by the DEC and delivered to the DEC by its principal investigators in 2011.  For over ten years, that report has been available to inform the DEC and APA about how to go about this necessary and legally mandated study and evaluation.

To conclude: the application fails to meet the legally required standard for review of variances. The Court ruling and the  very substantive, controversial issues raised by the application deserve and demand adjudication.  

Thank you for considering our comments and for incorporating them in the hearing record.

David Gibson, Managing Partner
Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve
P.O. Box 9247, Niskayuna, NY 12309

Cc: Barbara Rice, Executive Director
David Plante, Deputy Director
Chris Cooper, Counsel
John Ernst, Chair, and Agency Members and Designees
Rick Hoffman and Directors, Adirondack Wild